South Pacific Blog Has Moved

The South Pacific Blog has moved to a new internet address: www.blog.southpacific.org.

The archives of the old South Pacific Travel Blog at www.southpacific.org/blog used from November 15, 2005, to March 13, 2009, will be left online for reference but this address will no longer be updated. www.blog.southpacific.org is taking its place.

To allow greater control of what appears on my blog, I've switched from Blogger to the WordPress publishing platform. I happily used Blogger for over three years but Blogger is owned by Google and I felt it was better to diversify rather than having everything under one tent. I use the Firefox web browser rather than Internet Explorer for the same reason - a diversification away from Microsoft which provides the operating system on my computer.

Another difference between the old and new blogs is the use of categories and tags to allow users to more easily browse related content. This is nothing new in the blogosphere but I wasn't using categories previously.

User comments will now be allowed on the new South Pacific Blog. I've choosen to moderate each individual comment to filter out spam and inappropriate remarks. I welcome intelligent observations or criticism but unrelated comments will not be approved. Feedback, suggestions, and event notices should be sent in using the Contact Us button found on each page.

I invite you to www.blog.southpacific.org.

Travel Happy Budget Low



Susanna Zaraysky of Create Your World Books is offering free online books on budget travel and foreign language education until April 5, 2009. Language is Music has 65 tips on how to use music, TV, radio, movies, and low cost internet resources to learn languages. Travel Happy, Budget Low contains 190 tips about budget travel.

Dengue Fever in New Caledonia

Dengue fever is a mosquito-transmitted disease that first appeared in the South Pacific in the 1970s. Signs are headaches, sore throat, pain in the joints, fever, chills, nausea, and rash. This painful illness also known as "breakbone fever" can last anywhere from five to 15 days. Although you can relieve the symptoms somewhat, the only real cure is to stay in bed, drink lots of water, and wait it out. Avoid aspirin as this can lead to complications. No vaccine exists, so just try to avoid getting bitten (the Aedes aegypti mosquito bites only during the day). Dengue fever can kill infants so extra care must be taken to protect them if an outbreak is in progress.

South Pacific countries which have experienced major dengue fever outbreaks in recent years include Fiji, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, and Easter Island. Now it's New Caledonia's turn with over 2,665 cases since the beginning of 2009. Around a hundred new cases are currently being reported each day. Ten percent require hospitalization and the territory's health services are overstressed. Thus far, only one person has died. During previous outbreaks around the Pacific, fumigations and clean-up campaigns eventually overcame the disease. Dengue fever is not a reason to defer travel to New Caledonia, but be aware.

Fagali'i Airport Apia Samoa

Fagali'i Airport is near the golf course on the east side of Apia, Samoa, just five km from the center of town. Until 2005 Fagali'i received frequent daily flights from Pago Pago, American Samoa, but that year it was closed over safety concerns. The runway is said to be a little short, there are no runway lights, and the navegational equipment could be better. There's a valley at one end of the landing strip and a hill is nearby. An accident at Fagali'i would not only endanger passengers but also persons on the ground in this densely populated area. Therefore, since 2005 all of the Pago Pago flights have been diverted to Faleolo International Airport, 35 kilometers west of Apia. Faleolo is less convenient for Apia-bound passengers but at least it's safe.

Now Polynesian Airlines, which owns the land on which Fagali'i is built, wants the old airport reopened. However, Barney Sene, executive vice president of Inter Island Airways, one of two carriers currently offering scheduled service between Pago Pago and Faleolo, says his company's planes will not switch back to Fagali'i until major improvements are made. Safety first, says Sene. Inter Island Airways will begin using a fast Dornier 328 aircraft in April or May and Polynesian seems to be thrashing around looking for ways to compete. Polynesian's safety record is good but not impeccable. In 1997 a Polynesian Airlines Twin Otter crashed into Mount Vaea outside Apia and three of the five persons aboard were killed. Decades earlier in 1970, a Polynesian DC-3 crashed on takeoff from Faleolo and all 32 people aboard died. Before Fagali'i Airport is reopened, the aviation authorities in both Samoas will need to carry out a thorough reexamination of safety issues.

South Pacific Travel Guides

A good place to compare South Pacific travel guides all on one page is Map South Pacific. The latest guides from the main guidebook series "Moon, Lonely Planet, and Frommers" are listed there with links to their pages on five Amazon sites worldwide, plus Fishpond in Australia and New Zealand. For other South Pacific-related books visit the South Pacific Islands Bookstore on SouthPacific.org. A quick visit to these pages will let you know what's available.

Tough Times in French Polynesia

French Polynesia's hotels are feeling the brunt of the recession with occupancy rates down around 20 percent from a year ago. In January, 2009, the hotel occupancy rate was 36.11 percent, compared to 59.96 percent for all of 2007. In 2008, 196,486 tourists visited French Polynesia, the lowest level since 2002 when there were only 189,030 arrivals due to the travel slump after 9/11. In 2007 French Polynesia received 218,241 visitors.

Air Tahiti Nui - reeling from losses caused by low passenger loads - is discontinuing its nonstop service from Sydney to Papeete. Beginning this year, the airline's nonstop New York to Papeete service will operate from June to October only. The luxury cruise ships are also leaving. In December, 2008, the 670-passenger Tahitian Princess abandoned its homeport Papeete after cruising French Polynesia for six years. The number of cruise ship passengers dropped 20 percent in December from the level the year before. Meanwhile, the 330-passenger Paul Gauguin and 170-passenger Star Flyer continue to sail from Papeete.

Handout to Air New Zealand

The New Zealand Government has agreed to subsidize Air New Zealand's flights from Los Angeles to Apia, Samoa. The airline had threatened to withdraw from the route unless the Government of Samoa coughed up some money, effectively wiping out Samoa's only direct access to the North American and European tourism markets. Samoa's Minister of Tourism has promised to do all he can to promote the Apia route, hopefully making the subsidy unnecessary in future. Air New Zealand's weekly flight from Los Angeles to Apia competes well with Hawaiian Airlines service from Hawaii to Pago Pago, American Samoa. Anyone traveling between the mainland U.S. and American Samoa should compare prices and flight times because going via Apia could be cheaper and faster than transiting Honolulu. With Air New Zealand, a stopover in Apia will be free.

American Samoa Travel Guide

Olosega IslandThe full American Samoa chapter from Moon Handbooks South Pacific is now online. This is the fifth of the book's 15 travel chapters to appear on SouthPacific.org, after Niue, Pitcairn, Tokelau, and Wallis and Futuna. I updated the information based on a trip to Tutuila, Ofu, and Olosega after the handbook's 2004 edition was published, and the site's seven maps were also revised. I believe my site provides the most complete information on American Samoa currently available on the internet. It's certainly far more detailed than the rather sketchy American Samoa destination site provided by my competitor Lonely Planet. Judge for yourself.

Moon.com Relaunched

In January the official website of the Moon Handbooks series, Moon.com, was relaunched with lots of new material on Mexico, Central America, and South America. The site is especially strong on activities, and there are precise 21-day road trips to Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, and Baja California. Several Moon authors have blogs on the site, focusing on Guatemala, Costa Rica, Cuba, Belize, and South America. The maps section has lots of related guidebook maps you can download or print.

In future, Avalon Travel Publishing intends to produce most of its print guidebooks and their online renditions simultaneously, but in 2009 the emphasis will be on extending the geographic range of Moon.com, beginning with the United States. The editorial department will be converting content selected for the Destination channel, while the marketing department will be inviting authors to augment the Blog channel.

Publisher Bill Newlin says, "The early traffic reports are enormously encouraging, and we anticipate that online presentation of Moon travel content, and the new content management system that powers it, will be a central component of our branding and sales strategy going forward."

Fiji Butterflyfish Count Results

ButterflyfishLast August I announced the Great Fiji Butterflyfish Count organized by the Fiji Government Departments of Tourism, Environment, and Fisheries, Tourism Fiji, and several reef conservation organizations to mark the International Year of the Reef. The count was held from November 2 to 8, 2008, with participants asked to record the number of butterflyfish they saw over a 30-minute period during any normal snorkel, glass-bottom boat, or dive trip in Fiji.

Overall the count had a high number of participants who helped make it a success. Throughout the country, the numbers of butterflyfish found were higher than expected, especially in the western and southern Islands. There were regional differences, with one butterflyfish species dominating in the northern region, another in the west, and different ones on the outer islands. The organizers were pleased to verify that Fiji's butterflyfish biodiversity is high, and assume that this reflects the good condition of the reefs around the islands. The differences illustrate that there are different reef types in different regions, and scientists believe that this is helping Fiji's reef resilience and resistance to harmful events, which is good news for the future of Fiji's corals.

Moon Handbooks Tahiti Online

Moon Handbooks TahitiThe 5th edition of Moon Handbooks Tahiti is now on Google Books. This is the 2004 version, the edition before the current 6th edition of Moon Tahiti. The 5th edition still includes the Cook Islands and Easter Island chapters which were removed from the 6th edition for various reasons. So visit Google Books for detailed information on those areas. I intend to post those chapters on SouthPacific.org later this year, especially the Cook Islands chapter which I updated in 2007 but never used.

Wallis and Futuna Travel Guide

stone church at VaitupuI've had the good fortune to visit the French Pacific territory of Wallis and Futuna twice, once in 1984 when Aircalin launched its service from New Caledonia and Fiji to Wallis Island, and again in 2002 when a cruise ship I was aboard called at Futuna and Alofi. Not that many Pacific travelers manage to reach these islands, which isn't surprising considering the high cost of airfare, lodging, meals, and everything else connected with such a trip. You can only fly to Wallis from Noumea and Nadi, and the few hotels cater mostly to French expats earning the lofty salaries all French colonial aparatniks collect.

Wallis and Futuna is by far the least known of France's three South Pacific colonies. In fact, more Wallisians and Futunans live and work in New Caledonia, 2,500 kilometers to the southwest, than in their home islands. For the well healed (and lucky) traveler who makes it this far, Wallis has some impressive coral lakes and reefs, Futuna has fine coastlines, and uninhabited Alofi offers hiking and swimming. History buffs will find an ancient Tongan fortress, traditional Polynesian architecture, a ramshackle royal palace or two, old stone churches, and one of the Pacific's few places of Catholic pilgrimage. All of this is described in our new Wallis and Futuna Travel Guide which includes the relevant chapter from Moon Handbooks South Pacific with all the maps, plus a variety of photos and drawings. It's the most comprehensive site about Wallis and Futuna available online, if I do say so myself.

Is Sikaiana Sinking?

It's an inconvenient truth that rising sea levels caused by climate change will render most of the coral atolls of the Pacific uninhabitable by the end of this century. Whole countries like Tuvalu, Kiribati, and Marshall Islands may have to be evacuated. Some atolls are already experiencing flooding as high tides or waves send water flowing right across islands that are less than five meters above sea level at their highest points.

In the Solomon Islands, the isolated Polynesia outliers of Ontong Java and Sikaiana are currently in dire need of emergency aid after high waves contaminated the local food gardens with salt water, leading to famine in these subsistence micro-economies. The 500 inhabitants of Sikaiana are now hungry and homeless. Sikaiana consists of four small reef islets around a triangular lagoon. There's no anchorage, and access is by small boat through the surf. Getting supplies to these people isn't easy, especially in a land of limited resources like the Solomon Islands. In this forgotten corner of the Pacific, the carbon emissions of the affluent are taking their toll.

Do You Twitter?

Over the past few weeks I've been playing around with the many social networking sites out there. Of course, I've signed up at Facebook, but I've also joined lesser known sites such as Goodreads, a site about reading, LibraryThing, a user-generated library catalog, Linkedin, a network of online resumes, MySpace, an older social networking site, Red Room, a site for authors, StumbleUpon, a website reviews site, and tripwolf, social networking for travelers.

Perhaps the most intimate of these is Twitter. Twitter doesn't support the photos, groups, and other features of Facebook, instead it broadcasts fast 140-character updates on whatever it is you're doing. I plan to incorporate Twitter into my daily routine, and if you Twitter, please sign up as a follower. In a few days I'm leaving on a one-month trip to Africa and won't be posting here again until February but I should be able to Twitter along the way.

Pitcairn Islands Travel Guide

Pitcairn IslandsI've just uploaded my Travel Guide to the Pitcairn Islands which includes most of the Pitcairn Islands chapter from the 8th edition of Moon Handbooks South Pacific. This is the third chapter from my book to go online, after Tokelau and Niue. We're currently formating a fourth chapter and hope to have it online soon. My Travel Guide to the Pitcairn Islands outlines the geography, history, economy, and population of Pitcairn. There's practical information on accommodations, money, visas, and getting there. You'll find a link under Pitcairn Tours to the regular boat tours from Mangareva, French Polynesia. Detailed maps of Pitcairn, Oeno, and Henderson are provided, and I've thrown in a map and brief description of Norfolk Island between Australia and New Zealand where many Pitcairn descendants presently live. As always, I invite you to compare my Pitcairns Islands guide to the scanty Introducing Pitcairn Island site provided by Lonely Planet. Hopefully the competition will inspire the folks at LP to do a better job.

Suva Tourist Office Closes

Regular visitors to Fiji will be saddened to hear that the landmark Suva office of the Fiji Visitors Bureau, now known as Tourism Fiji, has closed. The defunct FVB Suva office was housed in the historic customs house dating from 1912 and it's still not clear what the future holds for the building. The location at the head of Victoria Parade across the street from Suva's General Post Office made it a convenient place for visitors to pick up brochures and ask questions. Now they'll be dependent on hotel brochure racks for such supplies.

Tourism Fiji seems to be trying to avoid you. The FVB information office at Nadi International Airport closed a few years ago and the only public Tourism Fiji office still extant is upstairs in Colonial Plaza between downtown Nadi and the airport. Few tourists pass that way and the office is hard to find so the staff inside aren't likely to be called upon to answer questions very often. Marketing Fiji to the tourist trade is their primary mission and you should request their brochures from one of their overseas offices before leaving home.

Be aware that virtually all of the well marked "tourist information offices" you see around Nadi are commercial travel agencies which provide biased information about their own products. They'll claim not to know about any hotels which aren't paying them a commission. For the full picture bring a copy of Moon Fiji to the islands with you as the guides aren't usually sold there.

Solomon Islands Exporting Dolphins

Solomon Islands is back in the dolphin exporting business with 11 more bottlenose dolphins being sent to the Philippines where they'll be trained to perform at a theme park in Singapore. This is on top of the seven other dolphins sent overseas in recent months. The Ministries of Fisheries and Conservation in Honiara allows up to 100 dolphins a year to be exported by five license holders. No research is carried out to judge how these exports will affect wild dolphin populations in the Solomon Islands and the whole whole affair is just another example of how the Solomon Islands Government allows foreigners to rip off the country's natural resources irregardless of the impact. The country's rainforests are routinely raped by foreign loggers with the active cooperation of government officials who aren't above pocketing large bribes. In 2006 Solomon Islands voted against the establishment of a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary and in support of Japanese whaling at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission. It's too bad the Solomon Islands Government doesn't seem to care about animal welfare or their own environment.

Seasons Greetings 2008

Seasons Greetings 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Insider's Guide to Fiji

ninemsnI've written an Insider's Guide to Fiji for the leading Australian website Ninemsn.com.au. This free online guide includes suggested one- and two-week itineraries, specific info on scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, ocean kayaking, whitewater rafting, and hiking, reviews of 10 exceptional places to stay, tips on where to eat, recommendations of special places "near the beaten track", and "where not to go". A unique feature of Ninemsn.com.au is that they invite comments from website users on almost everything. So go ahead and submit any feedback you may have!

In preparing the Fiji Insider's Guide for Ninemsn.com.au I was required to adhere to a rigid format, which was actually helpful as it inspired me to cover areas I might otherwise have neglected. Other authors have created Insider's Guides to 30 countries and 17 Australian destinations, making Ninemsn Travel an invaluable resource for world travelers. Do have a look.

Solomon Airlines Jacks Up Fares

Beginning on January 5, 2009, it will cost 19 percent more to use the domestic services of Solomon Airlines. In a way, this is good as the old fares were so low that it was often difficult to get a reservation. Now that many local users have been priced out of the market, it will be easier for visitors to get bookings on flights from Honiara to Munda, Gizo, and several dozen other islands. And Solomon Airlines does need the additional revenue to pay for its new twin-engined Dash8 aircraft used on domestic flights. Internationally, Solomon Airlines is at pains to explain that they are a full service carrier, not a no frills outfit like competitor Pacific Blue which charges extra for inflight drinks, meals, and movies en route.

Air Tahiti Nui Cuts Back

Declining passenger loads and rising financial losses are forcing Air Tahiti Nui to cut back on services to Australia and North America. The airline's convenient nonstop service from Sydney to Papeete will be discontinued next year, although the three weekly Sydney-Papeete flights which stop at Auckland en route will continue as before. In 2009 Air Tahiti Nui's nonstop New York to Papeete flights will operate from June to October only. Other months, New Yorkers will have to fly to Los Angeles on another carrier to pick up a service to Papeete.